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This blog is about my Comenius experience in Finland

Demand for day-care rockets - Mothers go back to work

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Mon, January 09, 2012 18:18:04

Day-care places for children are getting harder to come by in Finland's major centres. Some municipalities have seen a nearly two-fold increase in the number of children applying for day-care at the start of the year.

All of Finland’s biggest cities are experiencing difficulties with the number of children seeking day-care. For example, the number of those seeking a place in Tampere went up to 350 from last year’s 200, while Jyväskylä municipality received nearly 300 day-care applications compared with 160 the previous year.

The biggest demand for places in the capital region is in Espoo. Most day-care places sought are for children under three years old.

The pressure on places has been attributed to different factors, including higher birth-rates in the past few years and the threat of recession pushing mothers back to work in the capital region.

The Association of Kindergarten Teachers in Finland blames municipalities for poor planning when it comes to policies affecting small children.

The Association cites cases where municipalities have closed down kindergartens, only to find that they are desperately needed again in a few years’ time.


From: yle.fi, dd 09/01/2012

Financial incentives much used by parents in Finland

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Sun, December 04, 2011 19:44:42
Many Finnish parents find monthly or weekly allowances to be an effective way of teaching children to handle money.

Finnish parents are more inclined than parents in other Nordic countries to use money to encourage their children to work hard at school. This is the finding of a recent survey conducted by Nordea bank across the Nordic region.


From: helsinkitimes.fi, dd 01/12/2011

Students soon subject to drug tests

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Wed, November 30, 2011 05:52:56

A new law that comes into force at the start of the year will give universities, colleges and vocational training institutions the right to demand students to undergo testing for the use of illegal drugs. However, more work is still needed to specify under what conditions tests can be required.

Arvo Ilmavirta, CEO of the Lahti Region Educational Consortium, believes that the law will allow for testing if there is a serious suspicion that a student is using drugs. He says that it may come into question in cases of practical tasks where a student on drugs may pose a danger.

According to the Ministry of Education, testing is likely to be focused on students in the fields of social work and healthcare.

"I hope that this will not be seen at all. However, we have to be prepared for individuals that possibly experiment with drugs. We have extensive cooperation in providing student health services. This is where testing could take place, if needed," says Vice-Rector Hannu Heinonen of Lahti's Salpaus Further Education.

A number of institutions of higher education are already making provisions for possible testing of students, one example being the Lahti University of Applied Sciences. According to the head of the Lahti Region Educational Consortium there have been cases in past years of drug use by students that have come to light, but none have been seen recently.


From: yle.fi, dd 30/11/2011

More foreigners want to study in Finland

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, November 29, 2011 22:28:51

Prospective students are filing an increasing number of residence permit applications with Finnish officials. Family ties were however the most common basis for residence permit applications as of the end of September.

The Finnish Immigration Service made decisions on 17,055 residence applications between January and September of this year. On average, about 82 percent were approved.

About a third of applications on the basis of family ties were denied. Meanwhile residence permits were granted in 93 percent of the processed applications that were made with a view to studying in Finland.

Education in Finland appealed partly because it was more affordable than in Sweden or the UK, for instance.


Fewer Somalis apply

Reasons for declining residence permits to perspective students varied, but typically it was also a question of money. Either unsuccessful applicants could not prove that they had sufficient money to support themselves, or the source of their money was unclear.

In some cases, it was document forgery, for example of bank statements or diplomas, that led to rejection.

Altogether 18,327 people from outside the EU submitted applications for residence permits in the first nine months of this year. This number is a couple of percent higher than last year’s figure for the same time period.

Broken down by nationalities, most applications were filed by Russians, Somalis, Chinese and Indians. However the number of applications from Somalis clearly dropped compared to last year.


From: yle.fi, dd 29/11/2011

Pressures to extend school day

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Mon, November 28, 2011 19:06:26

A comparison in weekly classroom hours .

The trade union representing teachers here in Finland, the OAJ, is calling for longer school days as a part of an upcoming reform in the national curriculum.

Even though Finnish children spend well below the OECD national average of hours in class, academic performance is among the best in the world.

A new national curriculum for elementary schools is currently being formulated behind closed doors at the Ministry of Education. The group of civil servants working on reforms have not shown the plans even to the OAJ, the union that represents teaching professionals.

"If this were a broadly-based, publicly-open working group, it would be possible to provide comments as the work progresses. As it is, we will not be able to take a position before it is finalized, and then it's in the hands of the politicians," remarks OAJ chair Olli Luukkainen.

A curriculum reform proposed last year was withdrawn after a clash over the expansion of elective subjects in elementary schools. That plan was vocally opposed by the OAJ, the Centre Party and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities.

According to what the OAJ has been able to find out, the curriculum proposal now expected in February will not contain any major reforms. However, it does think it probably that the new curriculum will increase the number of classroom hours.

"We have the impression that it's being considered in a positive light. We think there should be the funds available. The number of school hours in Finland is below the OECD average," notes Olli Luukkainen.

He adds the view that more teaching time in the classroom could lead to better academic performance.


Longer days, better results?

Finnish schoolchildren have among the shortest school days in any of the OECD countries. The number of hours spent in the classroom in Finland is just over 22 a week; in South Korea it is over 33.

Professor Jouni Välijärvi of the University of Jyväskylä, who coordinates the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in Finland, says that longer days elsewhere is not a good reason to extend school days here.

"Indeed, PISA results show that this number of hours enables excellent results. It should be carefully considered if this would be an efficient method. It would also mean considerable expense," points out Professor Välijärvi.

The long school day of South Korean public school pupils often continues with extra lessons in private schools, while Finnish pupils have more free time. Both rank at the top of the PISA ratings.

In the view of Professor Jouni Välijärvi, instead of longer days in the classroom, Finland should invest in more special education and after-school club activities.

"There seems to be something in the air in other developed countries urging an increase in the systematic education of small children. I am not convinced that this is wise. It could produce exactly the opposite results intended."

From: yle.fi, dd 28/11/2011

No lunch for 20,000 schoolchildren in Tampere

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Fri, November 25, 2011 20:57:39

A work stoppage on Tuesday by employees of the Tampere city-owned Tampereen Ateria catering service means that around 20,000 children at schools and daycare centres will not have access to their regular lunches. Parents have been advised to pack lunches for their children.

Even if parents cannot or do not provide a packed lunch, pupils will not go hungry. School officials have been given permission to raid school kitchen pantries, and daycare centre workers can purchase food from local shops.

The law mandates that all pupils are provided with a full meal, free of charge, each school day.

The parents of children in daycare centres are being advised to pack sandwiches, fruit and other foodstuffs that do not require warming.

"No child will go unfed. We have the possibility to go to the shop to buy food if a child shows up for the day without a packed lunch," the Jussinkylä daycare centre told parents.

Not everyone is worried about Tuesday's lack of a hot lunch.

"I think it's fun to bring a packed lunch. I like banana yogurt," says Tiitus Savonen, one of the children at the Jussinkylä daycare centre.

Employees of Tampereen Ateria are carrying out the Tuesday work stoppage to protest plans to outsource catering services. The action will also affect city workplace cafeterias, but will not affect hospitals or care facilities for the elderly.

From: yle.fi, dd 23/11/2011

Language bus

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Fri, November 25, 2011 20:40:48

Bus brings southern Europe to Joensuu schools.

For the past three years, a travelling language fair has been visiting primary schools in Finland to pique pupils' interest in foreign language studies. This week students in the eastern city of Joensuu were given a taste of German, French, Russian and Spanish.

At the Pielisjoki school near Joensuu, salsa rhythms help pupils master Spanish basics. A travelling language fair organised by the National Board of Education paid a visit to schools in the area to expose kids to foreign tongues.

The programme aims to reach seventh graders facing a decision on which third foreign language they will choose in the eighth grade.

Je m'appelle...

The point is to make language learning fun.

"I'd like to study Italian or Spanish -- they're jolly languages," says seventh grader Emilia Tukiainen.

"Spanish would be pretty fun," says her friend Julia Ripatti.

Fellow pupil Simo Asikainen takes a pragmatic approach. "I would like to try German. It seems easy," he says.

Teachers in Pielisjoki say they want to see a broad selection of languages offered to their students. German and French are the most common elective foreign languages studied in Joensuu, though students can also take Russian, which seems a natural choice, given the city's close proximity to Russia.


from: yle.fi, dd 25/11/2011

Studying towards an uncertain future

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Sun, November 13, 2011 13:05:59

With the Minister of Education recently stating that Finland needs the number of foreign students here to increase in future, just how will an already difficult job market cater to this influx of international resources?

Regularly appearing at the top of various polls, the Finnish education system has acquired an international reputation for its high level of quality. Thus, among the higher education student body today, currently there are some 15,700 foreign students enrolled here in Finland, divided almost equally between university and polytechnic institutions.

However, this number makes up a mere 4 per cent of the student body nationwide – far behind such countries as the UK, which sees more than 20 per cent of their students coming from abroad. More startlingly, according to recent figures, 70 per cent of all non-Finnish graduates are leaving the country upon the completion of their degree, which begs the question: is Finland merely preparing students – for free – in order for them to benefit other countries and economies?

Study plan

The Minister of Education Jukka Gustafsson recently declared that Finland needs more foreign students in future in order to ensure that the high quality of education here is sustained. Seeking an increase to 20,000 international students by 2015, the overwhelming fact still remains that the majority of students will inevitably take their skills elsewhere upon graduation unless steps are taken to stem the flow.

“I very much want to stay in Finland,” explains Chris Pape-Mustonen, a PhD post-graduate, originally from the United Kingdom. “I have a wife and family, I enjoy the culture and have developed a life for myself here. I am, however, conscious of the possibility of leaving, and this is based almost solely on the difficulty of finding work. If I am unable to find meaningful employment here, I will be forced to consider leaving.”

What is abundantly clear for foreign students here is that networking is a very important tool for obtaining employment in their chosen fields. Although companies regularly plunder both undergraduate and postgraduate students even before they graduate, international students can still find it difficult to establish contacts in their particular industry.

“A lack of networks can be a barrier to finding entry level work,” offers Pape-Mustonen. “[When studying] there was one short course on job seeking, which dealt with many general issues about looking for work, and in which the larger scale problems related to foreigners were raised but, understandably, not tackled in any meaningful way.  The issue of networking is certainly something you are warned about, and indeed it seems like an issue that a foreign student can effectively tackle.  However, those foreign students who do have problems establishing a network can be at a serious disadvantage to Finns who are born with such an advantage.”

“The main challenge for international students to find employment is the lack of networks.”


Help is not necessarily at hand

Though, according to American-born professor at the University of Helsinki, Paul Ilsley, the major problem preceding the fact that international students are leaving is that many of them do not graduate in the first place. A much higher percentage of international students drop out of their courses than native students, and this is in part due to the poor care and attention they receive – or rather don’t – from their faculty.

Indeed, some students have been known to wait up to two years before seeing an adviser, something that shocks Ilsley. “Moral indignation does not even begin to sum up this situation,” he says. “I have known colleagues joke about this situation and they do nothing to help the international students; it is systematic social inequality and accentuates the spectre of Finnishness for the sake of Finnishness.”

According to Ilsley, Finland needs foreigners, as they can benefit the country as a whole and more should be done to keep them here. If they are given the opportunities – firstly in networking and then in gainful employment – then they in turn will be able to provide networking assistance to the next generation, and so the situation improves.

However, Ilsley believes that this again links back to the attitude of the academic staff, who adopt the stance of “How will this benefit me?” The simple answer in this case would seem to be that they can benefit from having more people graduate, which in turns allows them more funding and further enhances their reputation both here and abroad.

With recent talk concerning the introduction of tuition fees that would apply to foreigners, but not to Finnish students, it remains to be seen how this will affect the internationalisation of education in future. It must be pointed out that the individual departments cannot simply charge fees as they wish, but they can apply to the central administration of their university to charge only international students – there is no course of action for charging Finnish students: it simply cannot be done. This fills Ilsley with dismay. “Not only is this crazy, it is discriminatory. This is an anti-pedagogical practice – the students are being targeted, and they know it.”

Graduation by numbers

• 4% of the student body here in Finland is international, or

some 15,700 students, about half of whom are in universities,

and half at polytechnics.

• 1,200 of 29,100 university degrees in 2010 were awarded to

foreign citizens.

• Foreign students here are made up of over 100 nationalities,

with the largest single group being from China.

• 70% of international students in Finland move abroad after

graduation.


Opportunities in language

Furthermore, perhaps the most pressing issue that is responsible for driving students abroad upon graduation is a very obvious and contentious one: puhutko suomea?

“The complaint is that international students do not learn Finnish, but the reality is that the chances of them doing so are remote,” explains Ilsley. “In my experience, there is only one class available. This is very poor. Furthermore, it is a vicious circle: the belief amongst the academic staff is that if they can’t help themselves then why should we help them? Only if they learn Finnish can they then help themselves, but there is no desire to offer them that chance.”

“There were Finnish lessons at my university, which students should work hard at, however your Finnish is unlikely to be job-ready upon graduation,” Pape-Mustonen recalls.

While the difficulty of learning the local language has been previously well documented, there are still examples of foreigners successfully working here who have been able to learn to speak Finnish during their studies.

“I put a big effort into learning the language,” explains former student Érico Melo, originally from Portugal. “My girlfriend’s family always encouraged me to learn Finnish, emphasising that the language is really important, and that you have to learn Finnish to be successful in working life.

Now fluent in Finnish, Melo graduated from his studies in Gerontology three years ago and currently works as a supervisor in a supported residential facility for the elderly. Although he himself is now comfortably placed within the work force here, he acknowledges that a change of attitude is needed for employers here to truly embrace foreign workers, even when they possess adequate Finnish skills.

“It is always in the news that we need people to take care of our old people, this area needs more educated people and so on. It’s ridiculous, as I know that there are people living here who don’t have a job and have studied in this area, but can’t get work because they are foreigners.”

Adding to his bewilderment is the fact that Melo’s current foreign work colleagues are regularly praised for the different approach that they have towards their work.

“People have some misconceptions, thinking that foreigners will not show up for work on time and so on. And then they start realising that these people are actually responsible, and that people from Africa, for example, show more respect for the elderly people, honouring them; they see the older people as still being very important people. On the other hand perhaps the youngsters here don’t respect old people as much. Many of my Finnish colleagues actually feel that it’s really good to have foreigners working here; they really care for the clients.”

Melo believes, however, that Finland is just beginning to wake up to the possibilities of foreign workers, and the fact that these culturally different approaches to work can have very positive consequences.

“What I have seen in working life is that people are becoming more international here,” he observes. “Of course you see Timo Soini and that not everywhere are people so accepting of foreigners, but in general people’s attitudes are changing and they are becoming more accepting.”

Leading light

Along with the recent announcement of the intended internationalisation of higher education here, there is increasingly more work being done creating a smoother road towards employment for foreign graduates. Commencing in 2009, VALOA is a national project co-ordinated by the University of Helsinki’s Career Services, which is collaborating with 16 universities and universities of applied sciences to enhance the employability of international students. Working with both university staff and employers, the project seeks to illuminate this growing problem of graduates leaving the country by assisting educational facilities with readying students for working life here, while also trying to provide employers with information about how to employ international students and raise the awareness of the international student body in Finland.

“Employers are so unaware that we have such a huge academic talent here in Finland,” explains Heidi Layne, Specialist in Career Guidance and Training at VALOA. “The main challenge for international students to find employment is the lack of networks. They don’t have enough understanding as to where to look for jobs, and the opportunities available to them. Of course the language does play a role, but the employers we have talked with have started to think about the language requirements by position – there are a lot of places where you don’t actually need to know much Finnish. There is this turning point right now.”

So, as attitudes swing gradually more in the favour of the international graduate-cum-jobseeker here in future, will the forecasted saturation of the job market cope, and how will the local culture change in time to accommodate this growing demand?

“Currently the internationalisation here has been that Finnish people go abroad, so a lot of people think, ‘we are so international because all these Finnish people have been here, there and everywhere’, but actually we still cannot see the cultural capital of those people that move here from somewhere else. We should stop and see how we can utilise these young people who graduate. It’s not only the international students but it is all over Finland with recent graduates and internships.”

Layne believes that one significant factor lacking in Finland that would aid the plight of the foreign graduate is collaboration between the different ministries, educational institutions and the Chamber of Commerce, along with the City of Helsinki and non-profit organisations. “There are a lot of people who have a lot of resources, knowledge and the willingness to work on this. The first thing is to collaborate. Big companies, the small and medium sized companies, if they would see the benefits and resources of international graduates it would boost their own economies. What is very positive now is that there is a true interest. The discussion is moving from just talking and writing about it to actually thinking what would be the model that could be created here.”

Furthermore, being married to a foreigner herself has allowed Layne a first-hand look at the difficulties in obtaining employment for foreigners here, informing the decision that she and her family made recently to act as a “friend family” for a German exchange student, a programme that seeks to create a warmer and more inviting environment for international students while studying here.

In fact, having just completed an interview with MTV3 earlier in the day regarding the friend family initiative, it appears as though the issue of creating a more welcoming environment for international students is beginning to gather prominence in the public’s awareness.

“All of these things support integration during their studies, and support whether the student wishes to stay in Finland. “If I were to think how I would like Finnish society to be I would love it to be more mixed. The more we have people, the more we have ideas and innovations.”

Text Craig Houston and James O’Sullivan.

Sixdegrees.fi, September 2011

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